Weeknight dinners for us usually include a pasta bake. My daughter loves pasta, has done since she started eating really. And pesto pasta has been on the menu for my family for a very long time. However, my daughter does not love spinach, and since we switched to a vegetarian diet, I have struggled to get her to eat more spinach. We all know the importance of greens when you are a veggie. So I have had to go full on stealth mode to sneak it into her diet. And this is exactly where this pesto pasta bake comes to my rescue.
I have hidden a heap load of spinach in the pesto for the pasta bake! Yes, friends, even almost teenagers need hidden veggies in their pasta. She loves this pesto pasta bake and has no clue there is spinach in it, and if you squeal on me there will be consequences! Just kidding, I’m sure she’ll find out one day, never!! Pasta has always been the perfect vehicle for hiding veggies, I’m not even sure she noticed the courgette in this either. So this pesto pasta bake is definitely kid approved.
How to Make Pesto Pasta Bake (with hidden veggies)
This doesn’t take a huge amount of time if you are organised. Start by getting the pasta on to cook. While the past is doing its thing, make the pesto. You will need a food processor for this bit. Whizz together the basil, spinach, garlic, pine nuts and Italian hard cheese.
Slowly pour in the oil while the food processor is still whizzing away. Finish the pesto with the lemon juice, salt and pepper. Taste it now, then add more salt if you feel it needs it. Save a cup full of water from the pasta before you drain it. Mix that water into the pesto. Drain your pasta, tip it into a casserole dish, then stir in the pesto, add the courgettes and tomatoes. Cover the whole thing with mozzarella then bake and you are done! Hidden spinach pesto pasta bake for dinner!
Can I Freeze This Pesto Pasta Bake?
I don’t recommend freezing this dish. Any leftovers can be kept in the fridge once cooled. They should keep for a day or two.
Can I Make This Pesto Pasta Bake Vegan?
Yes, you can make this vegan. Just sub the Italian cheese for a good vegan hard cheese or Elena from Happy Kitchen Rocks has a great recipe for easy vegan pesto you can find that here. You will also need to sub the mozzarella for a good meltable vegan cheese.
Pesto Pasta Bake with Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
For the spinach pesto
- 30 g basil just the leaves
- 120 g spinach stems removed
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 45 g pine nuts
- 60 g hard Italian cheese (vegetarian) finely grated
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- The juice of half a medium lemon
- 60 ml extra virgin olive oil
for the pasta bake
- 390 g rigatoni
- 1 cup of pasta cooking water
- 1 medium courgette (240g) cut in half lengthways then sliced
- 90 g sun-dried tomatoes sliced
- 150 g mozzarella grated
- Extra Italian cheese, grated, for serving optional
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C / 356F. I use a fan assisted electric oven, please adjust the temperature to your own oven.
- Bring a large saucepan of water with a pinch of salt to the boil. Add the pasta and cook until it is al dente.
- While the pasta is cooking make the spinach pesto. Add the spinach, Italian hard cheese, basil, garlic and pine nuts to a food processor. Blitz until the mix is quite stiff then slowly pour in the oil while the blade is still going. Keep mixing until everything is combined. Now add the lemon juice, salt and pepper.Set aside until the pasta is ready.
- Drain the pasta reserving a cup of the cooking water. Tip the pasta into a large casserole dish. Add the water to the pesto, stir until the water is incorporated.
- Add the pesto to the pasta along with the courgette and sun-dried tomatoes, mix well.Top with the grated mozzarella. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Or until the cheese is golden and the courgette is cooked.
- Serve immediately with more grated Italian hard cheese and freshly cracked black pepper if you like.
- Calories are approximate
- I used rigatoni pasta, but any similar pasta like penne or fusilli will do just fine.
- If you are not vegetarian you can use parmesan cheese instead of vegetarian hard Italian cheese.
- The fresh pesto with the spinach really makes this pesto pasta bake, however, if you are really stuck on time then you can easily make this with a good store-bought vegetarian pesto.
- To make this vegan please see the post.
- I do not recommend freezing this dish.
- If you want to make this gluten-free just sub the pasta for your favourite gluten-free pasta.